Money isn’t the only thing that separates the rich from the poor. According to a new study published in the journal Emotion, there is also a distinctive difference in the level of compassion people of various economic backgrounds experience. Apparently, people with more money don’t feel compassion as often as people with less money.

Psychologist Jennifer Stellar conducted three different experiments to learn about the emphatic abilities of 300 college students with differing family incomes. In the first experiment, 148 students were made to fill out a questionnaire that would measure how much they felt certain emotions like joy, love, and compassion. They were also measured for their ability to show compassion by agreeing or disagreeing with statements like "I often notice people who need help."

After tallying the numbers, results showed that there were no significant differences in the students’ personality that could be traced back to income save for one: compassion. According to Stellar and her peers, those who had lower family incomes scored higher on the compassion meter.

In the second experiment, 64 volunteers were asked to watch two videos. One was an emotionally neutral instructional video on construction techniques while the other was an emotional video of families dealing with cancer-stricken children.

During this part of the study, the same volunteers were hooked to a heart monitor, so the researchers could accurately detect any changes in heartbeat. The first video on construction techniques yielded no changes in heartbeat, but the second video on cancer definitely elicited a reaction from the recruits of lower income backgrounds. Their heartbeats actually slowed down, which is considered to be a counterintuitive sign of caring.

The last experiment involved 106 subjects interviewing each other for a hypothetical job position as lab manager. To give the students incentive to do well, the researchers promised cash money to those who handed out the best interviews. According to the results, most of the students felt stressed or anxious when they were being interviewed. However, only those participants from low income backgrounds were able to detect the same feelings in their partners when they were doing the interviewing.

While the results of all three experiments seem to point at the natural tendencies of people with lower economic backgrounds to show compassion, it does not mean that people with money are completely heartless. Stellar believes that the capacity to show compassion is still there though perhaps life has yet to give them opportunities to exercise it. Besides, compassion shouldn’t be dependent on the number of zeroes a person has in his or her bank account. It’s something one discovers on his or her own.


For more studies related to emotions, try these:

(Photo by sgarbe84 via

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